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9 convicted in Best Bakery case

Press Trust Of India  |  Mumbai 

Nine of the 17 people charged with torching the Best Bakery in Vadodara during the were today convicted and awarded life imprisonment by a sessions court here. Eight other accused in the case were acquitted by Judge Abhay Thipsay, who conducted the retrial in the
The court issued show cause notices to all the witnesses, including Zaheera Shaikh, who had turned hostile asking them to show cause why they should not be prosecuted for perjury. The notices are made returnable on March 20.
The judge said he was not awarding capital punishment to the convicts because it could not be ascertained what were their specific roles in the crime.
Altogether 17 accused had faced the trial on charges of rioting and murdering 14 people who had taken refuge in the Best Bakery on the Hanuman Tekdi in Vadodara on March 1, 2002, in the post-Godhra riots.
Zaheera Shaikh, prime witness in the case, had moved the Supreme Court alleging that all the 21 accused in the case had been acquitted by the trial court in Gujarat as she had turned hostile because of threats issued to her. The apex court, on April 12, 2004, asked a Mumbai court to conduct the retrial so that the accused were given a fair trial outside Gujarat and the witnesses deposed without any fear.
While ordering retrial, the apex court had quashed the lower court order acquitting the 21 people. Four of them were untraceable and 17 were arrested and brought to Mumbai for retrial. Those convicted were Rajubhai Dhamirbhai Baria, Pankaj Virendragir Gosai, Bahadursinh Chauhan alias Jitu, Jagdish Chunilal Rajput, Dinesh Fulchand Rajbhar, Shanabhai Chimanbhai Baria, Shailesh Anupbhai Tadvi, Suresh alias Lalo Devjibhai Vasava and Sanjay Thakker.
The court acquitted Yogesh alias Painter Laxmansinh Varma, Harish alias Tino Virendragir Gosai, Mahendra alias Langado, Pratapsinh Solanki, Yasin Alibhai Khokar, Tulsi Bhikabhai Tadvi, Kamlesh Bhikabhai Tadvi and Ravi Chauhan. The prosecution examined about 75 witnesses during the trial which lasted for more than a year.
Of the 75 witnesses, and her family members turned hostile. Zaheera, her mother Sahrunissa, sister Saherabanu, brothers Nafitullah and Nasibullah did not support the prosecution saying they had not seen the accused torching the bakery.
However, Zaheera's estranged sister-in-law Yasminbanu supported the prosecution's case and narrated the incident before identifying the accused in the court. The defence lawyers led by Adik Shirodkar took the plea that Yasminbanu was at her parent's house when the Best Bakery incident occurred.
To counter the defence, the prosecution produced a video film showing Zaheera and others, including Yasminbanu, being rescued by police. The defence questioned the authenticity of the video film and said it was fabricated.
The defence lawyers also claimed that the identification of the accused by witnesses was faulty as they were called by nick names in the police statement of witnesses whereas in the court they were identified by their full name.
Meanwhile, human rights activists today hailed the convictions in the high-profile Best Bakery case, saying the verdict in the re-trial has vindicated their standpoint that the Gujarat government had interfered with the probe, even as the defence team planned to file an appeal.
"The verdict is a complete vindication of the Supreme Court judgment ordering the trial. The entire process of the re-trial was as every trial should be. It was thorough, transparent, probing and zealous," rights activist Teesta Seetalvad told reporters here.
She said the re-trial, held outside the state on orders of the Supreme Court, has ensured probity and transparency as only seven of the total of 75 witnesses turned hostile as against 68 of the total 74 when the original trial was held in Gujarat.
"The chargesheet was the same, the evidence was the same, the only difference is that here a thorough prosecution was doing its job. There the state of Gujarat was the prosecution and it was trying to subvert the trial," Seetalvad, who had been waging a prolonged battle to bring the accused to justice, told reporters.
However, the defence team was not happy with the sessions court verdict, awarding life imprisonment to nine of the 17 people charged with torching the Best Bakery in Vadodara during the post-Godhra riots killing 14 people, and said they would appeal against the verdict.
"We shall file an appeal the moment we get a certified copy of the judgment and in that we will make the submission as to why the judgment should be disbelieved or rejected," defence lawyer Adhik Shirodkar said.

First Published: Sat, February 25 2006. 00:00 IST